As a follow-up to an analysis of New York City English in film recently published in this journal (Boberg 2018), this article turns its attention to the whole country over the same 80-year period of 1930-2010, using acoustic phonetic, quantitative and statistical analysis to identify the most important changes in the pronunciation of North American English by 40 leading actresses in their best-known films. Focusing mostly on vowel production, the analysis reveals several important changes over the eight decades, reflecting a gradual shift from East Coast patterns rooted in the speech of New York City to West Coast patterns rooted in the speech of Los Angeles. The most obvious change, already identified in the New York City analysis, is in /r/ constriction: vocalization of /r/ is restricted almost entirely to the earlier period, before the mid-1960s. Turning to vocalic variables, the “low-back distinction” between /o/ and /oh/ (LOT and THOUGHT) declines, while a new distinction between /æ/ (TRAP) and its allophone before nasal consonants (e.g. ham or hand) emerges. Connected with these processes is a shift of /æ/ and /oh/ to a lower, more central position in the vowel space. Finally, the back-upgliding vowel /uw/ (GOOSE) shifts forward over time. These and other patterns correspond closely to those identified in the speech of ordinary people by Labov (1972) in New York City and by the Atlas of North American English (Labov, Ash and Boberg 2006) in the rest of the continent, revealing an intriguing parallel between public speech in the mass media and private speech in local communities.
Diva Diction: Hollywood’s Leading Ladies and the Rise of General American English
CHARLES BOBERG is associate professor of linguistics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He is a coauthor, with William Labov and Sharon Ash, of the Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change (Mouton de Gruyter, 2006) and the author of The English Language in Canada: Status, History and Comparative Analysis (Cambridge, 2010). Most recently he coedited, with John Nerbonne and Dominic Watt, The Handbook of Dialectology (Wiley Blackwell, 2018). His current research focuses on variation and change in the vocabulary and phonetics of Canadian English, as well as on accent variation in North American film and television. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Boberg; Diva Diction: Hollywood’s Leading Ladies and the Rise of General American English. American Speech doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-8221002
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